September 6, 2008 (Original publish date) • By Dennis Beaver
Sexual Harassment lawsuits have become a simple, cost-effective way for some lawyers to legally commit blackmail and extortion.
Why do I say legally? It’s because an attorney can get away with making the kinds of threats which would send a non-lawyer to prison. If you are a business owner, or thinking of starting a business and hiring employees, today’s story should be of special interest. There are steps which can be taken to help you avoid the expense, time loss and monumental worry these kinds of suits bring.
Dr. Tom was then 45, married, kids, happy family and successful in his Los Angeles family practice. He had never been sued in the 15 years that he was in private practice, nor a complaint made about the way he treated his staff or patients.
Two of his patients were a mother and her 17-year-old daughter Bobbie, a bright young lady who graduated early from high school and was in a business college, wanted to become an executive secretary. Needing part-time help in the office, and knowing that money was tight for mom and daughter, he offered Bobbie the job.
But the doctor did not know that they had a secret. Bobbie had been diagnosed as a pathological liar. She made up stories to achieve various goals.
After working in his office for about six months, one day Bobbie didn’t show up for work. Wondering why, the office manager phoned home, spoke with Mom, and was told, “Bobbie just doesn’t want to work in the office anymore.”
A week after that conversation a letter from a local attorney was hand delivered to Dr. Tom. It read, “Bobbie is prepared to file a suit against you alleging sexual battery which occurred during the course of a physical examination. This could easily come to the attention of the police, and you know what could happen. I suggest your lawyer contact my office and we attempt to resolve this matter out of court.”
One week later, a meeting took place at the lawyer’s office.
Dr. Tom acknowledged that he had examined Bobbie, when she was ill with what he suspected was pneumonia, or some other serious infection, and needed to rule out more threatening diseases. His nurse was in the room with them. Using a stethoscope, he listened to her chest, and palpated her neck, under her arms and elsewhere, looking for signs of swollen lymph glands. That was the “sexual battery,” according to her lawyer, touching her breasts, or nearby without any medical justification.”
“I firmly believe what you did was improper. We will settle for the payment, in one week, of $10,000 and a confidentiality agreement. If not, I am prepared to file suit, and my client is ready to make a police report,” Bobbie’s lawyer yelled.
When a physician is accused of anything to do with sexually improper conduct, be it in a law suit, or criminal prosecution, a career, reputation and a medical practice can be placed at great risk, if not completely destroyed, even if no criminal charges are filed and the doctor is cleared in the civil suit.
He paid the $10,000 under the advice of his attorney. He paid it the next day, with an agreement to keep the matter confidential. This all took place more than 10 years ago.
Call it Karma, poetic justice or the hand of God, but ill-gotten gains come with a price, as three years after Dr. Tom paid the money, Bonnie’s mother told him the truth about her daughter’s mental condition. Mom was then terminally ill with bone cancer — one of the most painful.
“She asked to be forgiven. I told her that she should burn in hell for her betrayal,” he emphatically told me.
“The hurt stays with you. To this day, I am so angry with all of them, especially the two I tried to help. I know some people might say it isn’t right, but I’m still upset with my own lawyer. I should have defended myself,” he told me.
Call it “buyers remorse,” or, more correctly, in this case, the reaction of an innocent man.
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.